I walked over to her warily, scanning her for any other changes. It wouldn’t surprise me to see that she had pierced her lip or something like that. She was impulsive and borderline irresponsible. That was how she had driven my dad insane, and his work addiction had forced her to throw him out of the house. Last time I had seen her was two months ago. Her hair was normal but she had had her ears pierced, something she was proud of as she had always been afraid of needles. The thing was, she was also very clever and sometimes serious. That was my personal reason for dreading my stay - I never knew how to act around her. Her infrequent visits to London had been awkward enough. Now I faced half a year with her as my legal guardian.
She called my name - as if I might have missed her - and seized me in a hug as soon as I was in reach, which was awkward with the bulk of my bags. I patted her back awkwardly and freed myself as quickly as I could. She took my luggage and stored it in the car’s spacious boot. There was enough room for two people to sit in there. I climbed into the passenger seat and my mother got in beside me as I buckled up. Her hands were small on the massive wheel as she drove out of the station, and I tried to hold off a panic attack. My clumsiness was inherited and I didn’t want to see the outcome of a crash in this monster of a car. Despite my worries, the car seemed to glide over the uneven tarmac roads. The interior smelled of new leather, mints and my mother’s favourite perfume. I settled into the comfortable seat and leaned my head back with my eyes closed. I wanted to block out the despairing view of the Old Town houses flashing past. This had once been the main part of Slake before the newer city developments had sprung up in the last 70 years. I had done my homework before coming back here.
My mum’s absentminded humming to the radio filled the space of small talk as she drove the two miles to the suburbs outside Slake where she lived. We lived, now.
I reluctantly opened my eyes as I felt the car pull smoothly onto a tarmac driveway. It was lined with strips of dirt where flowers sprung as and when they chose all year round. The small grass patch of garden was ankle-high and waving lazily in a late autumnal breeze. A few random bluebells nodded their welcome as I stepped out of the car and slammed the heavy door.
I examined the face of the house as my mother retrieved my luggage. It was exactly the same as in my hazy childhood memories, yellow brick and white wood, with a black tiled roof. The narrow red wooden side gate that led to the garden had faded some, and the diagonal trellis across it was woven with vines, the only remnants of the roses that I knew from photographs bloomed there in the summer.
The rattle of keys in the lock brought me back to the present. I walked up the path and picked up the bags from the doorstep as my mother bounded into the house with the energy of a teenager. She had a young face, and though she was twenty years older than me she could be mistaken for a sister. I heard her shout from the kitchen at the end of the hall that she was making coffee. I shouldered the front door shut and dragged the bags past the living room door and up the carpeted stairs. I stopped on the landing and looked at the two doors, one to the bathroom and the other a bedroom, and continued up the second flight. These were small and narrow and turned twice. They led straight to the door that had been my bedroom years ago. There was still a glittery name plaque on the door; I opened it warily, suspecting that my mother had redecorated.
The floor was still varnished oak planks, the walls painted purple and hung with abstract paintings in twilight colours. The mulberry velvet window seat that I remembered was hidden by a pair of new white curtains embroidered with silver. They matched the duvet on the bed, and the lilac silk Chinese cushions piled on top of the pillows matched a pyjama set my mother had given me the previous Christmas. A dream catcher dangling with feathers, beads and crystals twirled slowly above it. I actually liked it. I didn’t dare to admit it, but it felt homely. My bedroom in London (somebody else’s now; the flat was rented while my dad was out of the country) had had generic blue walls and cream carpeting, only personified by my belongings. This room was more matched to myself.
For some reason, I almost felt like crying. That she'd tried so hard to make me feel welcome, and to make this feel like home, made feel inexplicably sad. I decided to unpack to take my mind off it.